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Il Imprenditore Returns:

Sartana, the Angel of Death

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

by Tony Nash

(all opinions are of the author)

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Sono Sartana, Il Vostro Becchino (I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death) (1969) PG-13 **** ½

Gianni Garko: Sartana (as John Garko)

Frank Wolff: Buddy Ben

Klaus Kinski: Hot Dead

Gordon Mitchell: Deguejo

José Torres: Shadow (as José M. Torres)

Sal Borgese: Sheriff Fisher Jenkins

Ettore Manni: Baxter Red

Renato Baldini: The Judge of Poker Falls

Federico Boido: Bill Cochran (as Rick Boyd)

Tullio Altamura: Omero Crown

John Bartha: The Sheriff of Hot Iron

Samson Burke: The Judge’s Right Hand

Written by: Tito Carpi, Enzo dell’Aquila, & Ernesto Gastaldi

Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo (as Anthony Ascott)

Synopsis: When a gang with a leader dressed like gambler/gunslinger Sartana rob the Hot Iron Bank of $300,000, the cleaver fast draw must work fast to clear his name. Complicating matters is a $10,000 reward offered for Sartana’s head being sought by three men: Southern Aristocrat gunman Deguejo, stealthy Mexican tracker Shadow, and down-on-his-luck gambler Hot Dead, all former associates of Sartana. Helping Sartana stay free and alive is his friend, the grungy, but loyal, outlaw Buddy Ben.

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Sartana’s second appearance is just as fun as his first, perhaps a bit more because he gets fairly creative in catching his quarry and eluding those out to get him. Framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Sartana has to play detective again and try to figure out which of several individuals could’ve pulled off the job. Gianfranco Parolini had intended to continue with the Sartana character, but when the producer suggested a more light-hearted approach to the character, Parolini refused and gave up his rights to the character. This approach doesn’t do Sartana an injustice, though it’s understandable Parolini intended for the character to have different types of adventures. The light-heartedness of the film adds a great deal and makes it a fun ride anyone can enjoy. It’s not quite as silly as the later ones would slowly become, but some of the music allows for a good chuckle that allows the pace to remain steady. The James Bond craze was in full swing and having Sartana become a master of various weapons and other trickery made the character far more interesting and exciting to watch on-screen, audiences wondering what he would come up with next to outwit the bad guys. Granted Sartana had this aspect in the original film, but heightening it up for the first follow-up gives the character a special edge the keep one step ahead of the competition.

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Gianni Garko reprises the role of Sartana in an equally good performance as the original. Gone is the supernatural feel of the character, but the stealth and gadgetry remain the same. Like before, who Sartana really is remains a mystery, though this go around it becomes clear he has a penchant for gambling, particularly poker, and has acted as an unofficial bounty hunter. He’s still got the qualities of the traditional Anti-Hero of the Italian Western, but he differs in that he appears to be generally honest, only taking revenge on the people in on the plot to ruin his name and reputation. When three former associates decide to go after the bounty on his head, Sartana shows he valued their friendships and may find it hard to do them in. Frank Wolff, in his final Western role before his suicide two years later, is a blast as Buddy Ben. This guy is grungy and dirty, but he has a quality that often lacks in the Italian Western baddie: a code of ethics. When he first shows up on-screen, he’s looking to take out two men who betrayed him after a botched hold up, showing he takes the breaking of one’s word seriously. At first he seems a little too eager to help Sartana, but because he has a cast iron alibi, and clearly owes Sartana a favor from the past, Sartana accepts his aid. Wolff’s role is primarily as muscle to aid in breaking people for information in clearing Sartana.

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In a trio of extended cameo appearances are Klaus Kinski, Gordon Mitchell, and José Torres, billed under the name José M. Torres, three stalwarts of the Italian Western genre. Kinski plays Hot Dead, a surprisingly likeable gambler with a history of bad luck. Even though he wants the bounty on old gambling buddy Sartana, he would actually find it horrible to do so, especially since he owes the latter money, which for him is a worse sin than murder. Playing likable people was rare for Kinski, but he shows he was capable at it, and it was a real shame he didn’t do more of it. Mitchell plays Deguejo, a Southern Aristocrat who fancies himself a big game hunter. The thrill of the cat-and-mouse game is what draws him to the bounty, in spite of having aided Sartana in a few quests to bring in bad guys. Mitchell’s character is neither bad nor good in the film, he’s merely a presence doing what he loves to do, even if it means his life. Torres plays Shadow, a Mexican tracker/bounty hunter. He sees himself as a friend to Sartana, in spite of wanting the bounty, feeling Sartana would be more likely to die with honor, knowing it was a friend bringing him in. This is the toughest for Sartana as he and Shadow are clearly close friends.

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If there’s any flaw at all, it’s that Frank Wolff, Klaus Kinski, Gordon Mitchell, and José Torres weren’t given more screen time. Wolff is listed as the co-star, but he serves primarily as sidekick to Gianni Garko, which he does well at and isn’t a bad thing, but it would’ve been interesting if Buddy Ben had a little more to do. Kinski, Mitchell, and Torres were really guest stars with extended cameos, but it would’ve been neat to see them tracking Sartana, and maybe asking questions to where he’d been, what he was doing, and where he was going, and culminating it with a massive showdown, with the bad guy in the shadows finally getting his. Not that the finale is terrible, it works well, but it’s still nice to dream about what could’ve been. All of these actors were great character players of the genre who worked well in the roles they got, and brought quite a lot to the table.

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Parolini and others may feel the Sartana sequels got a little silly after a while, but the 2nd outing for the character is still a lot of fun and action packed. The story is well put together and the kill shot scenes are interesting to look at. The mystery aspect of who was the man impersonating Sartana was interesting as well as the man’s face was never shown, only seen from the back, meaning anyone could be the man in the shadows. All the characters are nicely fleshed out and all look as if they have something to hide, save the trio vying for the bounty, and keeps the audience guessing and in the dark as to who the head man really is. True the original aspects of the Sartana character being sacrificed for a more secret agent type is a shame, and would’ve been neat to see that aspect of the character continued, but what he ends up becoming isn’t bad either, and if anything, adds a bit or mystic to him. Sadly, the 1970’s brought about the early part of the demise of the Italian Western with the adding of comedy elements, but this is hardly what the Sartana films are,though the tongue-and-cheek aspect can hardly be seen as comedy. Even if the sequels aren’t up to par with the original, they’re still fun to watch and give viewers a good time with plot and suspense.

(The second Sartana film is just as good as the first, even a little better in it’s well revealed outcome. Like with the original it’s highly recommended and has a nice transfer of both image and sound from the fine people at Arrow Video. As I have a link to the Sartana Box Set in my review of the first film, no link will be added here. If anyone is interested please go to the first Sartana film review.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/images and their respective owners

For more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065019/?ref_=nv_sr_4?ref_=nv_sr_4

SpaghettiWestern.net/Sartana

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

The Swashbuckler of Swashbucklers:

1937’s Prisoner of Zenda

by Tony Nash

(All opinions are pf the author alone)

(Some spoilers may be present, but I’m sure everyone has seen at least one of the adaptations of this classic)

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The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) *****

Ronald Coleman: Maj. Rudolf Rassendyll/Rudolf V

Douglas Fairbanks Jr.: Rupert of Hentzau

Madeleine Carroll: Princess Flavia

David Niven: Capt. Fritz von Tarlenheim

Aubrey Smith: Colonel Zapt

Mary Astor: Antoinette de Mauban

Raymond Massey: Black Michael

Montagu Love: Detchard

Philip Sleeman: Albert von Lauengram

Written by: John L. Balderston, Edward E. Rose (as Edward Rose), Wells Root, & Donald Ogden Stewart, based on the novel by Anthony Hope

Directed by: John Cromwell

Synopsis: While on holiday in the country of Strelsau, British Major Rudolf Rassendyll discovers he’s the distant cousin and exact double of the future king Rudolf V. When Rudolf’s evil half-brother Black Michael decides to overthrow him, his guardian Colonel Zapt convinces Major Rassendyll to temporarily pose as the king to thwart the plot. When Michael’s slimy cohort Rupert of Hentzau discovers the switch, it’s a cat and mouse game to restore Rudolf to the throne, and avoid an international scandal.

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One of the few Swashbuckling Adventure films Errol Flynn didn’t make (he’d made Captain Blood only two years earlier). Filmed a couple of times in the Silent era, and even done a few times on the stage as a play, The Prisoner of Zenda combines Action, Romance, and even some Thrills, and does it all very well. It’s also one of the first films to deal with political intrigue, as an attempt of a coup against the current Royal Family is being hatched. Things get messy after a visiting foreigner’s aid in the matter is compromised by an even more devious and treasonous turncoat and Suspense pops up as the good guys try to stop the bad guys from turning their failed takeover into an International Incident. Many have agreed that The Adventures of Robin Hood is the all time Swashbuckling film ever made, but The Prisoner of Zenda beats it out by only a few points in how well crafted the twists and turns are in the film. The blending together of the love story, the feeling of adventure, and even some aspects of comedy offers something for everyone, so there’s very little to not like about the film.

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That the book is listed in the credits as a celebrated novel is interesting, as this story has had as many film adaptations as Dickens A Christmas Carol and Christie’s And Then There Were None. By the time of the 1937 film, several Silent Film versions had already been done from the turn of the century to the 1920’s, though the 37 version is considered the quintessential one as it maintained the majority of Hope’s original text. Some adaptations followed including a scene for scene duplicate starring Stewart Granger and a comedy version starring Peter Sellers. Even the TV series Get Smart took a stab at a comedy homage with Don Adams doing a nice imitation of Ronald Coleman in a three episode stint. The timelessness of the tale is what has allowed so many versions to come to the screen the span of almost 50 years, each set of filmmakers bringing their own interpretation to the book.

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Ronald Coleman is at his finest in the dual role as Major Rassendyll and his lookalike cousin King Rudolf V. Coleman, who was known more as a Romantic Drama leading man, got one of his rarer opportunities to be the lead in an Action/Adventure type story and certainly shows he was just as well suited to those roles as his lover parts. One of the tougher aspects of acting is to be able to keep track of two completely separate personalities and remember when you’re supposed to play each part and Coleman succeeds at this. Nothing is ever mentioned s to what Coleman did to keep these two characters from becoming blurry while filming, but it looks as if he kept Major Rudolf as the common man with a touch of class, and King Rudolf as a prima donna who matures into a classy aristocrat of the court. He certainly gives the likes of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. a run for their money as a swordsman, and while his skill isn’t on display very long, Coleman impresses with his ballet like agility. It’s a shame Coleman didn’t get to do more films like Zenda as he was very believable as a hero and could’ve gone even farther in his career has that aspect of his talents been played up more.

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Douglas Fairbanks Jr., the son of famed Silent Screen legend Douglas Fairbanks Sr., is in great form as the slimy Rupert of Hentzau. Fairbanks originally sought to play the dual lead role, wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps as a heroic character. The senior Fairbanks managed to convince his son he would receive much more acclaim as the villain than he would the hero, and he proved right. Fairbanks’ smile and charm allow for an extra dose of bedroom villainy, as Hentzau’s main avarice is pretty women he constantly tries to seduce. Sometimes a smiling villain is more effective than a stone faced or serious one, as what’s really on his mind is a constant mystery. Much of Fairbanks’ dialogue adds to the character as well, as much of what he says reveals his double-faced nature, making everyone, including Michael, see him for the dog he is. In many ways he’s the villain to outdo all villains, as he doesn’t even trust the man willing to give him a good chunk of the kingdom in exchange for getting rid of the king.

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Coleman and Fairbanks play well off of each other in the film, and it’s a shame they didn’t make more films together. The famous dueling scene between them is like watching two boxers duke it out, and the exchange of dialogue between them outdoes the scene between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in The Adventures of Robin Hood by a long shot. Certainly not as witty as Flynn and Rathbone, the way Fairbanks and Coleman compliment each other in the reciting of the lines is sometimes worth more than the words themselves. Both had been working before the advent of sound, and already demonstrated a few times before Hollywood had been right in taking chances on them for the talkies, are in some of their earliest high prowess as actors. The dynamic of the duo is really cool to see play out as it’s like a Master Class for anyone interested in filmmaking and acting, showing what two experienced individuals are capable of in their craft.

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Another interesting point of note is an early effort of future leading man David Niven. While already making waves in Hollywood and his native England, Niven had yet to reach the status he’d become known for. Supporting roles are a good start for any actor, and Niven shows what he’s capable of in a small, but still substantial role. Niven had the grace and eloquence he was always known for, though some might argue he was still getting used to the camera. Not as colorful or in-depth as some of the other characters, Niven shows early on what he was capable of as an actor.

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Even though many versions came before and after it, the 1937 version of The Prisoner of Zenda is (at least in this viewer’s opinion) number one on the list. The acting, story, cinematography, score, and direction are top-notch, even with the director’s complaints of about many of the male cast. Being that it was a couple of years into the sound era, this one had found its tone, pitch, and feet very quickly and was one of the first truly great successes of a format many studio heads secretly hoped would fail. David O. Selznick might have intended this to be his response to Edward VII, Duke of Windsor’s abdication for love, but what audiences really get is a good love story and adventure film that ends happy, just not the way it’s traditionally supposed to. It may not fit the traditional bill, but this one couples can see together, the ladies can watch Ronald Coleman impress Madeleine Carroll and the fellas can enjoy the intrigue and the fighting, so it can make for an amusing date night.

(This version of The Prisoner of Zenda is one of my all time favorite films and in my top 100 list. I highly recommend this version over all others, it is that good.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners.

For more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0029442/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Prisoner_of_Zenda_(1937_film)

https://www.amazon.com/Prisoner-Zenda-1937-1952-Versions/dp/B000KJU13C/ref=sr_1_5?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1535496239&sr=1-5&keywords=the+prisoner+of+zenda&dpID=51%252BNFto-mAL&preST=_SY300_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview

In His Madness, There Was Genius:

A Look at Tomas Milian

by Tony Nash

(all opinions are of the author alone)

In here…in here, is everything, from A to Z. Okay? I could be…a good person, I could be an evil son of a bitch, I could be anything. I could be funny, I could be very dramatic, I can make you cry, if you want.

Tomas Milian

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The old saying goes There’s a method to the madness, and that saying is no truer than with Tomas Milian. The son of a soldier, and brought up in a privileged household, Milian would learn how to thrive on his own after the Cuban Revolution of 1957. It was after seeing James Dean in East of Eden that Milian decided he wanted to be an actor, because he related to the rebellious nature of Dean’s character, something he’d been going through himself. With help from an understanding Aunt, Milian then made the trek from Cuba to Miami, where he began studying English for acting. After some ups and downs, Milian finally succeeded in getting into the famous Actor’s Studio, studying under Lee Strasburg. Unlike contemporaries Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, and Eli Wallach, Milian put what he learned in the Actor’s Studio to good use, utilizing facial expressions, body gestures, etc to make his characters the most believable. Milian never put less than 100% for every role, and would give it his all every time. It was after performing in a theater festival in Paris that offers from Italian filmmakers started coming in. After a series of intellectual roles that eventually became tiresome to the actor, Milian seriously considered relocating back to the States and starting afresh in acting.

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After accepting a role in the Spanish Western El Precio de un Hombre (The Bounty Hunter/The Ugly Ones), Milian found himself a growing icon in the burgeoning “Spaghetti Western” genre that would lead to a series of successful roles. As Cuchillo in La Resa de Conti (Settling of Accounts/The Big Gundown) and Corri Uomo Corri (Run Man Run), Solomon “Beauregard” Bennet in Faccia a Faccia (Face to Face), Jesus Maria “Tepepa” Moran in Tepepa, El Vasco in Vamos a Matar, Companeros (Companeros), and Chaco in I Quattro dell’Apocalisse (The Four of the Apocalypse), Milian created numerous memorable characters, all Mexican or Mexican Indian due to his Cuban heritage, but very different, and very unique. At first it was thought he would crash and burn in the Westerns due to his being primarily associated with intellectual films, but his talent and likability had him packing in theaters and soon becoming one of the top talents and draws of the Italian film industry. For Milian, the Westerns were a fun genre to perform in and preferred them to the intellectual films he had previously made, stating he found he could do more with his training at the Actor’s Studio than he could in the other films.

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When the Westerns started phasing out in the seventies, and the Giallos and Polizioteschi’s were becoming the new fad, Milian started spreading the word he would do these films at half his normal salary and was once again a top draw at the theaters, primarily in the Cop Action films. More memorable characters like Giulio Sacchi in Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Puo Sparare (Almost Human), Inspetorre Ravelli in Squadra Volonte (Emergency Squad), Vincenzo “Il Gobbo” Moretto in Roma a Mano Armata (Rome Armed to the Teeth/The Tough Ones), Luigi “Chinaman” Miaetto in Il Cinico, L’infame, Il Violento (The Cynic, the Rat, and the Fist), and Stefano Augenti in La Vittima Designata (The Designated Victim) followed in this era, and showed Milian as a capable performer who would try anything at least once. His most prolific time in the seventies was as two characters in two series of films: Nico Giraldi, based off of Al Pacino’s Serpico character, in 12 films over the span of a decade and Sergio “Er Monezza” Marazzi in three films over a five-year period. So identical were these characters the public often confused them with each other. While Milian preferred his Western roles to his Police Action roles, he enjoyed them nonetheless and found more diversity in his roles.

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When the Italian film industry changed in the 80’s, Milian, though still very popular, found roles were less and less in demand, and decided the time had come to return to the States and begin a new chapter in his career. Character parts in series like Murder, She Wrote, Oz, Law & Order, LA Law, and Miami Vice gave him a second career which later led to roles in JFK, Traffic, and Fools Rush In and introduced him to a new audience that would later check out his work in Italy and reignite the popularity he enjoyed in the 60’s and 70’s. Ill health plagued the very later part of his life and he sadly passed away on March 22, 2017 at the age of 84 at his home in Miami. Still very popular in Italy where he spent so many years of his life and finding new audiences in the States and the UK where he films are being restored on DVD and Blu Ray. While he’s gone, he will never be forgotten thanks to a quirky, but lovable personality, and an eclectic body of work that had his face change every time.

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What I want to do is to become the part – to leave Tomas Milian wherever he is and become the character

Tomas Milian

(Tomas Milian is one of my all time favorite actors whom I feel has never given a bad performance. I highly recommend seeking out any of Milian’s films on DVD and Blu Ray, he’s well worth seeing in every film he’s in. Almost Human is one of his best films, but is the hardest to watch because of how evil and despicable his character is. He’s an actor worth rediscovery in the States.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners

All quotes courtesy of Milian’s quote section on his IMDB profile.

For more information

IMDB/Tomas Milian

Wikipedia/Tomas Milian

TomasMilian.it. (if your Italian is good)

 

Filed under: Film: Actor/Actress Spotlight

Highly Underrated & Energetic:

A Look at Miss Joan Hackett

by Tony Nash

(All Opinions are of the author alone)

I said it before and I’ll say it again: the men in this town ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of lowdown, miserable, cowardly curs!

Joan Hackett as Prudy Perkins in Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969)

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A great actress of her day, though hindered in projects because of her difficult perfectionism, Joan Hackett was the embodiment of what a good character performer should be: resourceful, intelligent, capable, and diverse. Whether she played mothers, daughters, American, European, Latino, eccentrics, etc, she did what she thought best for the role, and no one would tell her different. Her most memorable performance was in Support Your Local Sheriff!, playing the clumsy, but very independent and wise, Prudy Perkins, daughter of the town Mayor. She and Jack Elam borderline stole the show from James Garner with their very wacky characteristics, and clever one liners. Other equally good performances were in the TV Western Bonanza, playing a no-nonsense, speaks her mind, Spanish spitfire Contessa in one episode, and a timid, but very much determined clairvoyant helping to solve the disappearance of a young boy in another. Another good independent woman role on TV was an appearance on Daniel Boone as a headstrong, gun-toting Mountain Woman. Her appearance in the Twilight Zone episode A Piano in the House showed she was equally adept at serious, dramatic, parts, proving she was diverse in the kinds of roles she was capable of. Her only other movie role of note was as an on her own, and good at it, female rancher raising her little boy in the Charlton Heston led Will Penny.

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Those who knew the woman, knew she differed in some respects to her on-screen roles: a wonderfully eclectic, intellectual Hostess, a supporter various charities and causes, and a firm believer in Spiritualism. Known to be very approachable and fun to be around, Hackett proved to be well liked by many off camera, though some admitted she could be trying when performing, even then admitting her dedication made her great at what she did. She continued to perform regularly until a battle with cancer began taking it’s toll on her. In spite of this, she remained as optimistic and professional in her career and private life. Many were saddened by her death in 1983, after a long valiant battle against a dangerous illness. Ironically, she asked that on her headstone, it read under her name, Go away – I’m asleep, which lends itself to the absurd as she loved hosting parties, but it’s humorous as sleep didn’t come easy when making TV or films. Sadly, she isn’t spoken of much today, and she should be as she was a constant professional, never demeaning others and doing what was best for the project at hand. Her style may have been erratic, but it was one to learn from as it garnered her acclaim and helped her get more roles. Very talented, though forgotten with the passage of time, she’s slowly making a comeback with the advent of DVD and Blu Ray, and entire new generations of fans are beginning to see the talent their parents and grandparents saw back in the day. Gone, but never forgotten by fans of the film and TV mediums.

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(I highly recommend watching Miss Hackett’s film and TV appearances, she’s very talented and her work is well worth watching.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners

For more information

IMDB/Joan Hackett

Wikipedia/Joan Hackett

All quotes from the IMDB Support Your Local Sheriff! quotes page and Miss Hackett’s bio page

 

Filed under: Film: Actor/Actress Spotlight

Freudian Drama in The West:

A Man Called Johnny

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

by Tony Nash

(All Opinions are of the author)

(Some mild spoilers might pop up)

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Garringo (The Dead Are Countless) (1969) *** ½

Anthony Steffen: Lt. Garringo

Peter Lee Lawrence: “Johnny” John

José Bodalo: Sheriff Klaus

Solvi Stubing: Julie

Raf Baldassarre: Damon

Antonio Molino Rojo: Harriman

Lorenzo Robledo: Deputy Sheriff Tom

Luis Induni: Dr. Grayson

Maria Salerno: Nancy Grayson (as Marta Monterrey)

Barta Barri: Wilson the Barman (as Barta Barrey)

Frank Brana: Bill

Luis Marin: Pete, a Bounty Hunter

Written by: Arpad DeRiso, Joaquin Luis Romero Marchent (as Joaquin Romero Marchent), & Giovanni Scolaro

Directed by: Rafael Romero Marchent

Synopsis: As a boy, Johnny witnessed Union soldiers murdering his father, an accused traitor. When he grows up, he takes to a life of crime and kills any and all Union soldiers he encounters, putting their bars on his father’s grave. The army, horrified at these events, decides to send someone out to get Johnny. The only man for the job is Lt. Garringo, but he’s serving a jail term for excessive force. The promise of a pardon sends Garringo on the trail of the murderous youth, but he soon realizes the man’s adoptive father and sister will be collateral damage.

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What sets this one apart from most Italian Westerns is that it’s a Spanish one. The Marchent family, father Joaquin and sons Rafael and Carlos, were the driving force of the Spanish studio Westerns of the era, and this was one of their best efforts. This darker Western takes a more dramatic, character driven approach to the story, though it still offers a good bit of action. Protagonist Garringo spends a good chunk of the film finding out about his prey, and getting information, sometimes forcefully, from people who know him or have recently come in contact with him. Antagonist Johnny is shown going through what he sees as the daily motions of his usual days, spending time with his adoptive family, and going around killing Union soldiers to avenge his father. While the theme of revenge, a common plot device in Italian and Spanish Westerns, is on display here, it takes on a more psychological aspect as it’s not a man wanting revenge on a single individual or group (whether a gang or town), but revenge on a force and symbol of authority containing thousands of people representing it. This type of revenge is often fatalistic and usually only leads to tragedy, the individual seeking it often a nihilist hoping for the bliss of death.

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Freud, or at least one of his theories, is on display in the film, as the character of Johnny is essentially two people, one civilized, charming, and innocent; the other a murderous brute with no concept of right or wrong, willing to do anything to avenge what he viewed as a wrongful death and put a dent in a force he sees as corrupt. This element is fairly deep, even for an entertainment Western, and while could be seen as intellectual by many, it really isn’t as the characters don’t go in depth into the conflict going on in Johnny’s head, only commenting that what he’s doing is wrong. The more in depth factor of the film is most likely what led to it being easily forgotten, the Marchent family attempt at being socially relevant going against the grain of what the Western genre was about for the Europeans. Today this could be seen as odd as in 1969 the Zapata Westerns, films about individuals fighting against corruption, essentially being relevant with the happenings of the Students Riots of 68 in Paris, Chicago, Prague, were very popular, so why this film was overlooked makes no sense. Whether the Marchents were too early to the game or whether the subject just went over the heads of too many folks is anyone’s guess.

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Anthony Steffen, seen by many Italian Western fans as a poor man’s Clint Eastwood, and infamously noted for his wooden acting style, is actually quite good in his role as Garringo. The character is initially a renegade who doesn’t play by the rules, who isn’t above even assaulting a woman and killing people outright, but he had redeemable qualities in that he has respect for the army itself, just not its rules, and sees Johnny as a disturbed individual who needs help, but also must pay for the crimes he’s committed. Showing emotion is clearly not one of Steffen’s better skills, but he’s able to convey that his character seriously doubts that he can bring himself to kill Johnny, feeling empathy for the young man. Garringo isn’t a completely conflicted character in what he should do, but at the same time realizes there are people close to his quarry who will be pained and feel suffering at whatever will happen to Johnny, so he does feel regret. The character may not have too much depth to him, but he has enough qualities to make him relatable.

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Peter Lee Lawrence, a German actor whose rising career was cut drastically short by a losing battle with cancer, is excellent in the role of Johnny. A tragic figure in every sense of the word, Johnny is an individual driven by a seething hatred planted in him during his childhood, an event which scarred him for life. While not having a hatred for authority, as he congratulates his adoptive father on his promotion as sheriff of their town, his reluctance only because he fears putting the man in a compromising position should his criminal life become public, he sees the Union uniform as a symbol of murder and tyranny, that the leader abused his authority in killing his father. Many Italian/Spanish Western baddies weren’t complex individuals who had underlying reasons for their behavior, but Johnny is an interesting and refreshing example as it’s clear he never had definite intentions of becoming a criminal. That he genuinely cares about his adoptive family adds to this tragic feel for the character as he didn’t want harm to come to them, forces which he doesn’t have control over, or awareness of, driving him further and further to destruction. It’s only when he aligns himself with a group of double dealing outlaws that his fate appears to be sealed.

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José Bodalo, an Argentinean expate actor gives a good performance as Johnny’s adoptive father Klaus. Normally known for villains or characters with questionable traits Bodalo is convincing as the father figure for a lost soul type of character like Johnny. An honest fellow through and through, Klaus is the poster boy for the model citizen of an Old West town. The character becomes torn when he discovers the truth about his adoptive son, not knowing whether to act on his instincts as a lawman or as a father. This honesty is what makes the truth of the matter more heartbreaking and devastating for Klaus as he wants to save his son, but somewhere inside of him keeps saying that’s impossible. This is another rarity in the Italian/Spanish Westerns, as characters like Klaus either left the canvas at some point or get killed by the associates of the person they wanted to help, but Klaus survives because he only briefly sees Johnny’s associates and because Johnny would’ve gunned down anyone who harmed his father or sister.

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Many fans of the genre see the Westerns of the Marchent family to be generic and not expand much on story or elements like action, but still they’re very compelling and well made. Characters like Garringo and Johnny aren’t inherently good or inherently bad, each displaying actions that reveal them to be more than what the audience sees. The film goes into something of a morality play with the character of Johnny played as a deeply troubled youth who’d have probably grown up to be a distinguished gentleman had he not witnessed his father’s death. By showing Johnny as two distinctly different people, allowing audiences to see both sides, the Marchents create a figure in the vein of a Greek Tragedy hero who may not have been aware of how sick in the head he was. Even Garringo grows a little during the course of the film, realizing Johnny matters to some of the town citizens, and that while he intentionally was killing soldiers, something clicked there was more to his reasons than what was known. Not great, but not bad either, the film is well worth checking out and deserves to be in that great pantheon of Italian Westerns.

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(This Spanish made Western isn’t perfect, but it’s well worth checking out and being rediscovered. The German DVD and Blu Ray releases of the film offer the best viewing quality and offers an English dub for those who prefer it, as well as the Italian audio and the German dub. There is  Spanish Blu Ray, but it offers only the Spanish audio, and no English subtitles or dub.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

For more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065759/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garringo

Spaghetti Western.net/Garringo

https://www.amazon.de/Garringo-Blu-ray-Limited-Anthony-Steffen/dp/B01BG0T2K6/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1534953920&sr=1-1&keywords=garringo

https://www.amazon.de/Garringo-Anthony-Steffen/dp/B01BG0SYF0/ref=tmm_dvd_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

https://www.amazon.de/Garringo-Henker-Anthony-Steffen/dp/B00HNHM3VC/ref=pd_sbs_74_1?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B00HNHM3VC&pd_rd_r=8e49288c-a625-11e8-99b5-91c875d4da1e&pd_rd_w=16ANW&pd_rd_wg=WdxCm&pf_rd_i=desktop-dp-sims&pf_rd_m=A3JWKAKR8XB7XF&pf_rd_p=946762da-975a-438a-9e2b-a585cbe769b5&pf_rd_r=EYMWEX0M6TPC5YQ449CJ&pf_rd_s=desktop-dp-sims&pf_rd_t=40701&psc=1&refRID=EYMWEX0M6TPC5YQ449CJ

For those wishing to try the Spanish Blu Ray

ttps://www.amazon.es/gp/product/B00VHLZLT6?ie=UTF8&tag=thespagwest01-21

 

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

The French Film Answer to the Italian Opera:

A Look at Une Chambre en Ville

by Tony Nash

(All Opinions are of the author)

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Une Chambre en Ville (A Room in Town) R (1982) ****

Dominique Sanda: Edith Langlois Leroyer

Danielle Darrieux: Margot Langlois

Richard Berry: François Guilbaud

Michel Piccoli: Edmond Leroyer

Fabienne Guyon: Violette Pelletier

Anna Gaylor: Madame Pelletier

Jean-François Stevenin: Dambiel

 

Written & Directed by: Jacques Demy

Synopsis: The future of five people unfolds around a series of demonstrations during a Union strike. François, leader of the strikers, initially loves good girl Violette, but finds himself falling for his landlady’s unhappy daughter Edith. Edith, who married husband Edmond in haste, is doing everything to fill the void of unhappiness, but finds new meaning after meeting François. Edith’s mother Margot, a Countess who lost her title, feels stuck in the middle of the foursome.

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Puccini, Verdi, Rossini, Leoncavallo, and…Demy? Jacques Demy, considered the most mainstream and Hollywood of the French Nouvelle Vague Movement filmmakers dedicated one of his late efforts before his death from AIDS to the Hollywood Musical and Italian Opera. Une Chambre, Demy’s attempt to capitalize on the popularity of his popular effort Les Parapluies du Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) is nowhere near as excellent or moving as its predecessor, but is still quite enjoyable for its similarities to the classic era of Opera. Demy had a passion for Musicals and brought the medium to a new level with telling compassionate stories with song. The film follows more in the pattern of Opera as everything, including the dialogue, is sung (this came out before the successful Musical version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables). Une Chambre is more of an Opera than Cherbourg because Cherbourg lies in the realm of an Operetta, meaning it might still have a sad ending, but it’s not dark, while Une Chambre is an Opera because it deals with unrequited love, and forbidden, tragic, love. Operas have been filmed before, but were done on stage in front of audiences, while Une Chambre was done on sound-stages and on the streets, making it the true first Film Opera.

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The action being centered around a workers strike is really interesting as it not only harkens back to the themes of Opera, but also to a relevant issue at the time it was filmed. Activists like Cesar Chavez in the late 1970’s were making real strides in bettering conditions for both standard workers and specialty workers, and the 1980’s saw many Unions and Labor Leaders really pushing for better pay, better hours, and the conditions that began with Chavez. Opera also dealt with breaking with conformity in some way and doing what they want in spite of the risks. That Demy deals with a socially relevant issue of the time was new for him, as his films didn’t normally go in that realm, and while he doesn’t go too deep into it, many viewers of the time probably had cathartic experiences in one way or another regarding the issue surrounding the events of the piece. Since so few Operas were done after the 1930’s, the film is a curious “what-if” had Operas adapted to the modern era. While the workers strike is an essential part of the plot, it’s the people who exist within it that are the driving force of the film, which is the absolute theme of any and all Operas. While usually ordinary people end up in extraordinary situations that end badly, almost every character in Demy’s film is already broken in some way, another first for him, taking the Opera to a different dimension.

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Dominique Sanda, who inherited the sex symbol status after Brigitte Bardot retired to pursue other interests, is wonderful in the role of Edith. A harkening back to the classic tragic heroines of Opera, Edith is a lovely young lady, hurt by several years of a loveless marriage. She spends a good majority of the film stark naked, covered only by a mink coat, as she has spent what money she had, and refused anymore by her slinky husband. Her royal heritage destroyed after her mother married a commoner, Edith is a lost soul looking for anything and everything (sans drugs and alcohol) to fill the void, not knowing anymore what she wants from life. When she first appears she has lost the zest for life, but only when she spies François, her mother’s tenant. Something in her is rekindled and a renewed passion is evident later on. Finally gaining independence, she decides to break free from her crazy husband, but tragedy strikes, leading to a spiral of consequences and regrets. Sanda’s serious face, sorrowful looking eyes, and deep voice, was perfect for Edith as it reflected the harshness for which the character has seemingly lived her whole life. Numerous popular characters from Operas resemble Edith, but there are far too many to name to give an exemplary comparison of.

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Richard Berry, a popular star of the 70’s, 80’s, and partial 90’s, is quite good as day laborer/activist François. First and foremost concerned with giving his fellow workers better pay and better conditions, François at fist glance is a pretty normal, likable guy. He cares deeply for girlfriend Violette, but isn’t sure yet of marrying her, and, unlike most of his generation, gives his bourgeois landlady respect. As the film progresses, it becomes clear François is in a rut in terms of his personal life, seemingly going through the motions. When he meets Edith after saving her from her husband, François suddenly realizes she is what has been missing in his life, and wants to be with her forever. Normally this would make him a cad, but because he doesn’t hesitate in telling Violette what’s transpired it at least reminds the audience he’s an honorable man who won’t lie. When the time comes to stand up for their rights, François leads the charge, knowing it could mean his death, as the authorities have made clear they’ll use force.  Like with Edith, many male leads of the great Operas are like François, but again, far too many are around to give an exemplary comparison.

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Michel Piccoli, one of France’s preeminent character actors, is memorable as Edmond, Edith’s depressed, but controlling husband. Realizing early on he could never satisfy her in any respect, Edmond chose to deny her certain necessities in order to keep her. When she finally breaks free of him through François, Edmond loses his last shred of sanity, as in his own way, in spite of his cruelty, he loved Edith. In true Operatic fashion of the jaded lover or the heartless antagonist, Edmond commits the ultimate sin in order to gain revenge. Even though he isn’t on screen very long, Edmond’s presence is one of the key elements to the outcome of the film, and his actions bring about changes, many bad, some good, to not only the people around him, but to people he hasn’t even met. Another character in the film with far too many contemporaries in Opera to compare to in one sitting.

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Danielle Darrieux, a legend of both French and American cinema, is fantastic as Edith’s dowager mother Margot. At one time a Countess, but defrocked of her title because she married a commoner, she still manages to maintain a stoic dignity in spite of losing everything. She loves her daughter very much, and has respect for activist tenant François, but at the same time can’t help but be uncertain of the consequences of their decision to be together. She tries her best to play mediator to them, and even to the unhinged Edmond, but realizes quickly it’s all in vain. Realizing the chaos to ensue, all Margot can do is watch as everything around her slowly come apart. Darrieux, who exhibited regality like the character, is very much like the loving mother or guardian of many a great Opera, and like with the others, there’s far too many to mention in one piece.

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The only flaw with the film is that Demy had singers dub over the voices of the actors singing. Why Demy didn’t hire singers to play the roles is uncertain, but this in a way hinders the film, as you know it’s not the voices of the actors who are supposed to be singing. An actor like Dominique Sanda, whose voice is very evocative, is denied that opportunity by having their voice taken out of the occasion. The one consolation with Michel Piccoli, is that the singer who dubbed him for Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort) dubs him again here. Danielle Darrieux is the only actor of the whole cast who sings herself, while everybody else is clearly lip-syncing to another performer. Famous actors would certainly bring in the crowds, but that whole idea seems mute when they’re not even allowed to sing themselves, unless of course the range of the melodies and voice types are beyond their capabilities. Other than this, the film is quite good and well worth multiple viewings.

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A well done script, fine acting, a memorable score and singing, and great direction from Jacques Demy make one of his last films a fine achievement. Opera lovers will rejoice in how Demy finely hones all the elements that make Operas so majestic and fantastic, and how Demy flawlessly transitions the art form from stage to film. Even if audiences aren’t into Operas or Musicals, the compelling story and human interest characters are more than enough to draw the crowds in and provide good spectacle and entertainment. An all around good film, even if it’s dark in story to a degree, that almost anyone can relate to in someway. Not Demy’s classic Cherbourg by a long shot, Une Chambre is a decent enough effort that’s worth the praise of a talented director who put all his passions and drive into every project he envisioned. In a period where Demy’s type of film no longer had a place, he managed to pull out one more that sparked interest in a new generation.

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(I do recommend this film highly and recommend getting the Criterion Collection Blu Ray of the film. Right now it’s only a part of the Jacques Demy Box Set, but it’s really worth the money as Demy made a slew of wonderful films that deserved to be checked out.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners

For more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084843/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Une_chambre_en_ville

https://www.amazon.com/Essential-Jacques-Demy-Blu-ray-DVD/dp/B00JPUUQ5A/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1534907331&sr=1-1&keywords=jacques+demy+criterion&dpID=51ohbicCH6L&preST=_SY300_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

https://www.criterion.com/boxsets/1055-the-essential-jacques-demy

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview

Japan’s Wild West (with Some Pathos):

The Greatness of Yojimbo

by Tony Nash

(All Opinions are of the author alone)

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Yojinbo (Yojimbo, The Bodyguard) (1961) *****

Toshiro Mifune: Sanjuro Kuwabatake

Tatsuya Nakadai: Unosuke “Uno”, Gunfighter

Eijiro Tono: Gonji the Tavern Keeper

Daisuke Kato: Inokichi “Ino” Rotund One

Isuzu Yamada: Orin

Kyu Sazanka: Ushitora

Seizaburo Kawazu: Seibe, Bordello Owner

Takashi Shimura: Tokuemon, Sake Brewer

Ikio Sawamura: Hansuke

Kamatari Fujiwara: Tazaemon

Yoko Tsukasa: Nui

Susumu Fujita: Homma, Devious Swordsman

 

Written by: Akira Kurosawa & Ryuzo Kikushima

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

Synopsis: Wandering Ronin (Masterless Samurai) Sanjuro makes a stopover at a town in the throes of a gang war between the Seibe and Ushitora clans. Deciding to rid the town of the brutal thugs, Sanjuro plays both groups against each other; all while making money in the process. Things become complicated by the arrival of Ushitora’s progressive younger brother Unosuke, who has brought back a gun from his travels to the West. Even more complications arise when it’s revealed a captive woman is held by both gangs, forcing Sanjuro to come to terms with a painful memory.

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Akira Kurosawa’s homage to Dashiell Hammett’s novel Red Harvest, is a thrilling, dramatic, action packed, and at times funny, Samurai film that delivers on every level. Kurosawa takes Hammett’s story from old-time America and transfers it to 19th century Japan, in a little community outside of Edo (later to become modern Tokyo), and turns the gangsters and molls into renegade Ronin, prostitutes, and corrupt officials. The Continental Op, Hammett’s unknown wanderer, his real identity and name never disclosed, becomes the drifting Samurai Sanjuro looking for something to do. While not an official adaptation of the book, the film makes use of some of its elements, primarily the mysterious stranger playing two petty criminal gangs against each other for the sake of money. How Kurosawa makes it his own is that he adds his consistent use of pathos, drama, and giving his greedy protagonist depth and soul, and even a heart. While many of Kurosawa’s films often dealt with relevant issues of the time, Yojinbo is a fun action drama that, while giving a look at life during that period and a code of ethics only the protagonist seems to maintain, is a piece where the viewer can sit back and enjoy the ride. How Kurosawa takes the film to newer levels, is that he adds nice touches of dark comedy into the film, particularly through Sanjuro. Some of Kurosawa’s made use of comedic moments to break tension and give breathing room, but this proved to be a rare case of Kurosawa taking a fairly light-hearted approach to his material.

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Another interesting facet of Kurosawa’s is that while he gives his audience a clear indication of who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, he also shows them with faults. Like with many filmmakers of the time, Kurosawa knew the world wasn’t back and white in terms of people, that they weren’t 100% good or 100% bad, but he also realized there were those who were inherently good, in spite of poor decisions in their past, and equally inherently bad, in spite of wanting others to look the other way. By showing his characters as humanly as possible, flaws and all, Kurosawa allows his audience to empathize fully with them and be able to like them for who they try to be, and what the audience may like them to be, and hate them because of what they choose to ignore in life, and the bad things they’re willing to do in order to move forward.

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Toshiro Mifune is in ultimate form with the role of Sanjuro, a part he was practically born to play. A Ronin in every sense of the word, Sanjuro’s mangy, unkempt, and unscrupulous. At first glance, one would think he was a mere vagrant preying upon unsuspecting upper echelon members of society, but in reality there lies a cunning underneath that dirty façade, and a restlessness that no one Lord can contain. Kurosawa told Mifune to think of himself like a wolf while prepping for the film, and indeed Mifune’s scratching his head and constant arching of shoulders gives the impression he’s been wandering so long, he actually has fleas. He’s a free-thinking and talking type of man, making no qualms or apologies about what he thinks of everyone and about the situation he’s found himself in, but at the same time decides something needs to be done to save the town. While the primary impression he gives is one of an opportunist who’ll due anything for a quick buck, he actually shows a side of himself that, while it can’t be coined sensitive, is at least a type of tenderness. When he witnesses the mistreatment of local woman Nui, something stirs inside of him, and finds himself wanting to help her. While he never explicitly goes into why he’s helping her, it’s clear he’s known at least one other woman like Nui who had a similar problem, but circumstances and people beyond his control probably led to a sad ending. Mifune’s gruffness with equal parts pathos and gentility help make up this wonderful combo. When he has to come face to face with town crime lord Unosuke and his equally vicious brothers, he decides enough is enough.

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Tatsuya Nakadai, the Japanese equivalent of Alain Delon, proves a really excellent villain in Unosuke with a slimy smug smirk and fear piercing stares. Nakadai proved himself a worthwhile talent, as his skills and ability as an actor make audiences really want to hate this character, and to some, maybe even a joy to hate. Kurosawa, like with Mifune, told Nakadai to think in terms of an animal for his role, in his case a snake. He lives up to this moniker ten-fold, as he’s scheming, conniving, and even a little traitorous with his own brothers. That he’s the youngest of the three brothers makes him even more dangerous, as he’s right at an age where progressiveness has its usage. He’s really not looking to prove himself, as he already He comes in midway into the film, after traveling abroad for a time, either for pleasure or to wait out an amnesty for a past offence, and comes back with a (back then) modern new weapon: a six-shooter pistol. This weapon frightens all those he meets, and that it even kills quicker than a sword has even Sanjuro a little unsure of this wildcard. That Nakadai maintains a level of elegance within the role makes him reminiscent of a greedy land baron of a Western. He makes a great counterpart to Mifune, and is an equal in acting ability as well, as these two powerhouses played off each other well.

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So well done was Kurosawa’s film that Sergio Leone stole it scene for scene when making his debut Western Per un Pugni di Dollari (For A Fistful of Dollars) a couple of years later. While Kurosawa was flattered and felt Leone did a fine job translating his film for Western audiences, he and Toho Studios sued Leone and Jolly Films for copyright infringement. Kurosawa went on record saying the lawsuit made him more money than the ticket sales did. Kurosawa’s original is the far better film by a long shot, though Leone does it justice with his interpretation, but Kurosawa has a far richer palette in characters, depth, and story, while Leone has characters who just seem to try to survive without doing a thing to change their lot. Kurosawa’s characters want to be free, but so much destruction and lack of anyone with courage to stop it had left them with little hope, whereas Leone’s characters are pessimistic who, even if help came, little would change except their circumstances.

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This film for the most part is a fun ride, but Kurosawa also manages to work in his human interest themes that leave the audience feeling a little wiser and a little more hopeful for human decency. The Sanjuro character can definitely be seen as a precursor to the Anti-Heroes of the Italian Westerns, as Leone’s unofficial remake became the model that future films of that genre were based off of. Equal parts dark humor, action, and drama, the film is an unusual breed all its own that gives European and American audiences a unique perspective of pre-20th century Japanese life and customs, and gives Japanese audiences a chance to get entranced in a fantasy world and dream of what could be.

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(This is my all time favorite Kurosawa film and it comes highly recommended. The Criterion Collection DVD or Blu Ray is the best quality I’ve seen and comes with a great commentary from Kurosawa biographer Stephen Prince)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055630/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yojimbo_(film)

https://www.amazon.com/Yojimbo-Criterion-Collection-Blu-ray-Toshir%C3%B4/dp/B00319HT9W/ref=sr_1_4?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1534548952&sr=1-4&keywords=Yojimbo&dpID=51cHTuEnWSL&preST=_SY300_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

https://www.criterion.com/films/597-yojimbo

For those wishing to see the original and its sequel Sanjuro

https://www.amazon.com/Yojimbo-Sanjuro-Criterion-Collection-Blu-ray/dp/B003152Z4U/ref=tmm_blu_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1534548952&sr=1-2

For UK, Region Free Blu Ray player owners, or Region B areas (and looking for a good deal)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kurosawa-Samurai-Collection-Blu-ray-Disc/dp/B00LA1ZV52/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1534549142&sr=1-1&keywords=Yojimbo

 

 

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview

The Double Crosses Are Endless:

The First, and Most Original, Sartana Film

By Tony Nash

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

(All Opinions are of the author alone)

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Se Incontri Sartana, Prega per la Tua Morte (If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death) PG-13 (1968) **** ½

Gianni Garko: Sartana (as John Garko)

William Berger: Lasky

Fernando Sancho: General “Tampico” Jose Manuel Mendoza

Klaus Kinski: Morgan (as Klaus Kinsky)

Sydney Chaplin: Jeff Stewal

Gianni Rizzo: Al Alman

Franco Pesce: Dusty the Undertaker

Heidi Fischer: Evelyn Alman

Maria Pia Conte: Jane Randall

Sal Borgese: Lt. El Moreno

Sabine Sun: The Saloon Girl

 

Written by: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini, & Theo Maria Werner (as Werner Hauff), from a story by: Luigi De Santis, Fabio Piccioni, & Aldofo Cagnacci

Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini (as Frank Kramer)

Synopsis: Mysterious Bounty Hunter/Bodyguard Sartana discovers a ploy by bankers Stewal and Alman to steal a trunk full of insurance money for themselves. Their plan is to place the blame on the feuding Mexican outlaw General “Tampico” and American outlaw Lasky, claiming each had double-crossed the other. Soon all hell breaks loose and Sartana has all sides plotting against each other.

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The original film in the only Saga of the Italian Western, Se Incontri Sartana is a surprisingly complex, action packed thrill ride that keeps the audience guessing as to what’s really going on, and whose who in all the mayhem. It’s the complexity that makes the film unique, because the audience doesn’t know who to trust, and if anyone knows more than they’re telling. This hardly slows down the fun and action of the film, and if anything, enhances it because of all the treachery and deceit all the characters seem to be capable of. The complexity also makes it hard to pinpoint down the plot exactly without giving too much away and spoiling things, but at the same time it’s a good thing because it allows the audience to make their guesses as to who the real bad guy is. Like any good Italian Western, the main objective of all the characters is money, though this time the audience really doesn’t know whose going to end up with the money, and who the puppet master behind the whole plot. In fact, so many double crosses happen in the film, not only does the audience lose track of them, but even as to who is double-crossing who. A bigger rarity in the Italian Western is that most of the characters seem to be in the dark about if they’re in control of their created situation, seemingly making judgments as they go along.

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Deceit and treachery seem to be the name of the game for the villains of this Italian Western. Alliances and loyalties change at the drop of a dime, and the question of who is trying to cheat who out of the money is almost completely blurred. That the bad guys can’t even trust each other is something completely new for the Italian Western as their villains were usually just sadistic and greedy, but were at least loyal to an extent, only snitching or turn-coating causing partnerships to be terminated. While alliances were shaky to begin with for Italian Western baddies, they didn’t turn on each other without reason, even if the reason was petty. This consistent unease with the villains makes for a very interesting set of circumstances that add a good bit to the overall feel to them and allows for something a little different that keeps the genre fresh.

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The cast of the film is superb and entertaining. Gianni Garko, an Italian born in Croatia, is excellent as the black-clad and mysterious Sartana. He really is like a ghostly specter walking/riding across the landscape, though he is in fact a living man. What the makes the character even more interesting is that nothing is ever really learned about him. Who is or what he does is never revealed in the film, even when he refers to himself as a dealer in death audiences don’t know if it’s the truth, adding to the hint of the supernatural theme of the character. Spaniard Fernando Sancho and Austrian William Berger, two stalwarts of the Italian Western genre, are both excellent as the Mexican bandit and American bandit respectively. These two characters are so dishonest they don’t even trust each other to betray them in the outlaw fashion. The only difference between the two is that Sancho’s Mendoza keeps his word whereas Berger’s Lasky is far too willing to change sides at the drop of a hat. While not to be trusted, their own codes of handling business are an interesting parallel that makes one wonder who’ll finally tire of the other and kill him.

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In a very short, but memorable, appearance, German actor Klaus Kinksi proves once again why he was a reliable, even if unstable, character performer. His brief appearance as Lasky’s sharpshooter Morgan makes excellent use of his eerie gaze and face, without any of the menace he was known for. That he could give a restrained performance shows Kinski’s willingness to play any type of character, though it often seemed that he preferred playing crazy characters. In a rare, but very nicely done role as a traitorous banker, is Sydney Chaplin, one of the many children of Silent Film icon Charlie Chaplin. While much more in love with theater roles, Chaplin shows he could do equally well in films too. Normally playing nice guys, Chaplin proves he was a capable slime ball as the weak Lothario Stewel, not only screwing his town out of money, but also screwing the man he was supposed to be in league with. Chaplin did appear in two other Italian Westerns after Sartana, but his preference for the stage deprived films, not just European and American, but in general, of his wonderful talents.

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The only real flaw with the film lies in the soundtrack. Italian Westerns sometimes were forgotten about and the film stock and soundtracks tended to go into near disrepair. While the soundtracks are fine in terms of pitch and tone, little bits of the Italian soundtrack appear to be totally missing and English audio in their place. While this certainly doesn’t take away from the film and make the viewing experience horrible, those who prefer the original language audio with translated English subtitles (like this author) may be a little disheartened initially, but not completely off put to re-watches. This is only a minor flaw in the long run, and doesn’t spoil anything at all.

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Surprises abound in this mystery style Italian Western, always keeping audiences on their toes as to what’s really happening and who the mastermind really is. Even with a complexity that requires full attention from viewers, the film is still a blast to watch and have fun with. Paying attention in films isn’t always a bad thing as audiences can join in with characters like Sartana in putting the pieces together to figuring out the schemes of the bad guys so in a way, the viewer is sort of like Sartana’s partner, next to Dusty of course.  Sartana, much like The Man with No Name, Django, and Sabata, was an icon of the Italian Western Genre, what made him different was that he kept who he really was a secret, while his contemporaries tended to let a little of who they were come out in spurts. Not a mindless popcorn oddity by a long shot, but still gives audiences a worthwhile movie experience they won’t forget.

(I highly recommend picking up the Arrow Video Boxset of The Sartana Series, the transfers are excellent [from what I’ve seen so far] and offer clean and clear Italian with translated [removable] English subtitles and dubbed English audio options)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063568/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_You_Meet_Sartana_Pray_for_Your_Death

https://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/B07CDCF31/ref=tmm_blu_new_olp_sr?ie=UTF8&condition=new&qid=1534355453&sr=8-3

For anyone in the UK, Region Free player owners, or Region B areas:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Complete-Sartana-Limited-Blu-ray/dp/B07C9D91G1/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1534355434&sr=1-1&keywords=Sartana

For anyone curious to try their skills at Italian

https://www.amazon.de/Sartana-Bete-deinen-Uncut-Blu-ray/dp/B075TXT7LQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1534355657&sr=1-1&keywords=Sartana

 

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

Sometimes It’s Not in the Voice:

Great Performances by American Actors in European Films

by Tony Nash

(All Opinions are of the writer’s alone)

While many fans may make the assumption American actors who went to Europe to make films was a step backwards as their voices were often dubbed due to the actors not speaking the language of that country, this is hardly true. American actors appearing in films overseas had two benefits: for the established star, working in Europe meant the talents of directors, actors/actresses, screenwriters, etc. who wouldn’t normally get noticed in the States, meant for US distribution and a chance to get international recognition, and for established actors struggling in the wake of changing tastes, work in Europe meant a second career and second chance at stardom. For the up-in-comer having trouble getting through the door in Hollywood, a career in Europe offered a chance for recognition and star statues, and far more offers than Hollywood would give. Now there are many great performances out there, in A grade “important” films and B grade genre films, but the roles discussed here will reflect the noted stand-outs.

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Burt Lancaster as Prince Don Fabrizio Corbera of Salina (dubbed by Corrado Gaipa) in Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) (1963) ***** – Directed by Luchino Visconti, Written by Suso Ceechi D’Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Enrico Medioli,  Massimo Franciosa, & Luchino Visconti, from the novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

Burt Lancaster, who was mostly known as a matinée idol at the time, gives a powerhouse and touching performance as the aging Prince of Sicily who slowly watches his country go from Monarchy to Democracy. Lancaster only occasionally got to play roles with depth like with Come Back, Sheba, From Here to Eternity, and Elmer Gantry, and was often obliged to take standard role types. With Il Gattopardo, he’d hoped to break away from his leading man image, and show how talented an actor he was. Initially he was felt miscast, even by the director Visconti, but he ended up perfectly embodying the greatness of the Prince, physically and symbolically, as exactly Visconti envisioned when he was co-writing the script. The film flopped originally at the box-office as gaudy, and actually hampered Lancaster’s goal for more serious work, but years later critics and viewers alike see this as one of Lancaster’s best performances. His mixing stoic majesty with tender vulnerability, showing a man keeping his family’s spirits up in the wake of change in public and maintaining a sense of dignity and authority, while inside he is sad, scared, and uncertain of his place in a world without royalty in charge, is a real challenge he pulls off magnificently. A highly underrated actor who didn’t get his rightful accolades until almost too late, but still is seen as a rightful icon of the film industry.

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Charles Bronson as Harmonica (dubbed by Giuseppe Rinaldi) in C’era una Volta il West (Once Upon a Time in the West) (1968) PG-13 ***** – Directed by: Sergio Leone, Written by: Sergio Donati & Sergio Leone, from an idea by Bernardo Bertolucci, Dario Argento, & Sergio Leone

Charles Bronson gives one of the more underscored performances of his career in Sergio Leone’s loving homage to the American Old West. Bronson truly is The Man with No Name, as he never says what his name is; Jason Robards character Cheyenne finally coining him “Harmonica”. With a quiet demeanor, and a face that looked like it had gone through much hardships and tribulations, Bronson was able to affect a man haunted by a long ago trauma that left him a shell, only the sounds of a musical instrument giving audiences any hint to a small bit of who he really is. By only using glances, facial expressions, and body movements, Bronson was able to convey so much more to his character than any amount of dialogue could. Leone had a knack for choosing actors who didn’t need a lot of words to let the audience know what they’re thinking and what they’re about to do.

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Rod Steiger as Edoardo Nottola (dubbed by Aldo Giuffre) in Le Mani Sulla Citta (Hands Over the City) (1963) ***** – Directed by Francesco Rosi, Written by Francesco Rosi, Raffaele La Capria, Enzo Provenzale, & Enzo Forcella

Rod Steiger is at his heaviest and grittiest best in a film about the battle between a building contractor and a politician looking to win an election in the wake of a building collapse in Naples. What makes Steiger’s role unique is that his character, in spite of being greedy and opportunistic, is actually quite likeable. While money and being elected commissioner of construction in the upcoming elections is a goal he won’t be denied of, Nottola shows he’s a loving and caring father, a stout Roman Catholic, and does care about the future and well-being of the Province. His character is an interesting shade of grey, not black and white as most people would expect. Even stranger is that the intended “hero” of the film, De Vita (played a real politician ironically enough) is quite unlikable in his not thinking past the here and now of the film, and what his decisions might mean later. That Steiger plays his character as a real person in a film featuring only three actors (himself included) in a cast of non-professionals (a trait of filmmaker Francesco Rosi, who wanted his films to feel as authentic and relatable as possible) is a real showcase of talent and ability.

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Frank Wolff as Gaspare Pisciotta (dubbed by Turi Ferro) in Salvatore Giuliano (1961) ***** –  Directed by Francesco Rosi, Written by Suso Ceechi D’Amico, Enzo Provenzale, Francesco Rosi, & Franco Solinas

Struggling actor Frank Wolff gives an impassioned and equally restrained performance as Gaspare Pisciotta, the ally turned murderer of his cousin Salvatore Giuliano. Wolff, one of the earliest graduates of UCLA’s acting curriculum, had been shooting the film Atlas for his friend Roger Corman, when filmmaker Francesco Rosi offered him the role in his production of the infamous Sicilian outlaw. Rosi, who was known for casting non-professional actors for the effect of authenticity, realized the role of Pisciotta was a complex one, something a non-professional couldn’t convey, and since Wolff was eager to appear in productions with a little more depth, but not necessarily a big paycheck, he was hired on the spot. The duplicitous, tortured, and conflicted nature of Pisciotta is displayed beautifully from Wolff, who shows great talent that the UCLA training flushed out well. Being unknown at the time allowed him to blend in well with the non-professional performers, and not take away from the realism Rosi wanted to visualize.  While not the caliber of Laurence Olivier and many others, Wolff was a dedicated performer who always gave his best, even when the role was very beneath the great talent he possessed.

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Lee Van Cleef as Jonathan “Colorado” Corbett (dubbed by Renato Turi) in La Resi Dei Conti (The Settling of Accounts/The Big Gundown) (1966) ***** – Directed by Sergio Sollima, Written by: Sergio Donati & Sergio Sollima, from a story by Franco Solinas & Fernando Morandi

Lee Van Cleef is a wonderful and genuine surprise as the lawman with a conscious in Sergio Sollima’s entertaining and socially relevant Western. While Van Cleef wasn’t a trained actor, his naturalness and facial features allowed him to convey emotions in a way dialogue couldn’t. This ability gave the character the depth Sollima intended for him and, whether intentionally or not, showed Van Cleef as a capable character actor. Van Cleef didn’t get to do a role like this too often, and the few times he did, was very good and impressive. The character isn’t quick to draw his gun, and works out the mystery before he goes into action. Much like Charles Bronson, Van Cleef was another actor who could tell the audience much more with expressions, body and facial, than with words.

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Eli Wallach as Tuco (dubbed by Carlo Romano) in Il Bouno, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) (1966) ***** – Directed by: Sergio Leone, Written by: Agenore Incrocci (as Age), Furio Scarpelli (Scarpelli), Luciano Vincenzoni, & Sergio Leone

Eli Wallach’s sometimes comedic, sometimes serious, but always interesting to watch bandito is a sight to see in Sergio Leone’s classic Western. An individual who’s committed every crime in the book at least once is quite sympathetic as he’s one of the rare Leone characters to get a flushed out back-story that, while it doesn’t justify his actions or behavior, does let the audience know his criminal life wasn’t a wanton choice, but rather because he had no choice. Wallach’s ability to have the audience not hate Tuco, but not praise him either, takes a great deal of ability and skill, something Wallach showed over and over he had plenty of. One of the many early graduates of The Actor’s Studio, Wallach, like Cuban-American-Italian actor Tomas Milian, utilized his skills in genre film equally well as in more serious-minded projects. His breaking away from what Karl Malden and Marlon Brando were doing in terms of their films made him a recognizable character actor immediately and was able to gain a large variety of roles.

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Frank Wolff as Il Commissario di Polizia (dubbed by Sergio Rossi) in Milano Calibro 9 (Caliber 9) (1972) R **** ½ – Written & Directed by: Fernando Di Leo, from a collection of stories by Giorgio Scerbanenco

In his final complete performance before his tragic suicide, Frank Wolff shines as a disillusioned Police Commissioner, who thwarts all pleas from his new assistant to crack down on the ruthless rich who take advantage of the powerless poor. Even though his role is supporting, and much of his scenes part of a secondary plotline to the main story, Wolff still excels in his part, and gives 100% with it. The part is a very animated one and Wolff puts forth numerous burst of energy as much of the scenes he was in had him in arguments with the character of his assistant, played by Luigi Pistilli. The Commissioner comes off as very dedicated, but having seen so much crime and guilty people over the years, has hardened his thought process and no one is innocent anymore. Di Leo himself said later that Wolff’s part was much larger initially, but because he and Pistilli often took the scene outside the script, much of his role was left on the cutting room floor, feeling awful it happened as Wolff floored Di Leo and the crew with those moments of fine acting.

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Henry Silva as Lanzetta (dubbed by Sergio Rossi) in Il Boss (The Boss) (1973) R **** – Written & Directed by: Fernando Di Leo, from the novel by Peter McCurtin

Henry Silva goes above the norm in Fernando Di Leo’s look at the Sicilian Mafia. Silva gets to display the talent he honed in acting school to its fullest as a Mafia “buffer” who goes through conflicting emotions as a Mob War escalates between his employers and a rebellious Mafioso looking to become a kingpin. That Silva takes his character beyond the standard, and what many would consider “stereotype” of the Italian gangster, and gives depth and dimension to a role that would’ve normally been generic in other films. This depth doesn’t necessarily make audiences sympathize with the character, but it does allow for the audience to see that there is more to this individual than just what’s on the surface. The character is certainly brutal and vicious, but he shows at the same time he cares about certain people, even if he doesn’t feel he should be so close to said people.  A highly underscored actor who should’ve gone further than he did.

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Henry Silva as Commissario Walter Grandi (dubbed by Nando Gazzolo) in Milano Odia: La Polizia non Puo Sparare! (Almost Human) (1974) R **** – Directed by: Umberto Lenzi, Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi

In a major departure from his usual fare and casted against type, Henry Silva does really well as the police inspector in Umberto Lenzi’s well done, albeit darkly brutal, crime thriller. No one would’ve thought Henry Silva could play a cop until this film, but he excels beyond expectations in what he was a capable of as an actor. The role was originally intended for Richard Conte, who had to bow out because of a heart attack, so Silva was brought in as a last-minute replacement. Fears he couldn’t be believable in such a part were laid to rest as he succeeded in every aspect of a cop’s personality in every scene he appeared in. Ironically, Silva’s policeman comes off as more believable in the final moments of the film than Conte’s would have. Conte would’ve been the cop who’d gone bad from his morals being shattered whereas Silva comes off as a cop who sacrifices everything so someone like Tomas Milian’s character in the film doesn’t have a chance to commit another dastardly deed.

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Mark Damon as George Bellow Ferguson (dubbed by Giuseppe Rinaldi) in Requiescant (Kill and Pray) (1967) *** ½ – Directed by: Carlo Lizzani, Written by: Adriano Bolzoni, Armando Crispino, Lucio Battistrada, Pier Paolo Pasolini, & Carlo Lizzani, from a story by Renato Izzo & Franco Bucceri

Mark Damon, one of the many American expatriates who found fame in Italy, is a scene stealing success in Carlo Lizzani’s one and only Western about a Puritan raised gunfighter opposing a Southern Baron racist tormenting Mexican peasants. Damon is a blast as Ferguson, the poster child for the Southern Plantation Baron elitist who hates everyone not light-skinned. Even though you hate the character, Damon’s acting abilities make viewers want to hate him, and in some cases like to hate him. This guy is so full of himself and constantly using the third person when in conversation or order giving it almost goes into the absurdly funny. Not meant to funny by any means, this flamboyance gives Ferguson the mark of a dying breed of men whose time has passed and the way of life they led is no longer viable in a new and changing world. The politics of the time had Damon having to recite lines that voiced filmmakers of the times views on the world, but ignoring the preachy messaging of the film, Damon’s lines can be seen as the ravings of a bitter, hate filled man.

Honorable Mentions

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Henry Fonda as Frank (dubbed by Nando Gazzolo) in C’era una Volta il West (Once Upon a Time in the West) (1968) PG-13 ***** – Directed by: Sergio Leone, Written by: Sergio Donati & Sergio Leone, from an idea by Bernardo Bertolucci, Dario Argento, & Sergio Leone

In a casting against type that went against all conventions, Henry Fonda gives a performance of a lifetime as the sadistic/heartless gunman in Sergio Leone’s 2nd classic Western. It was a role that Hollywood would never let him repeat again, given all the saintly characters he played. Only Sergio Leone could see the menace within Fonda, and had him use his famous baby blue eyes to full effect with the coldness within. It’s only listed as an honorable mention due to how mean-spirited the character is.

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Lee Van Cleef as Setenza/Angel Eyes (dubbed by Emilio Cigoli) in Il Bouno, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) (1966) ***** – Directed by: Sergio Leone, Written by: Agenore Incrocci (as Age), Furio Scarpelli (Scarpelli), Luciano Vincenzoni, & Sergio Leone

In another surprising casting decision, Lee Van Cleef got to play the most brutal baddie of his career in Sergio Leone’s first classic Western. Van Cleef by this time was known in Italy for playing good guys who were honorable, but still had a touch of larceny. So the shock was on them when they saw Van Cleef shooting and maiming people without mercy while on the search for stolen Confederate gold. American audiences already knew of Van Cleef’s pedigree as a heavy, having played so many henchmen and big budget pictures, and main baddies in smaller budget affairs, but even they weren’t expecting the levels of meanness Leone would have Van Cleef’s character go. Van Cleef also proved his pedigree as a gentleman as one scene required him to slap a woman several times, and he insisted to Leone he wouldn’t strike her, resulting in very clever editing techniques from to make it look like it was him. This one goes to honorable mention status again due to the character being extra vicious.

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Lee Van Cleef as Frank Talby (dubbed by Emilio Cigoli) in I Giorni dell’Ira (Day of Anger) (1967) **** ½ – Directed by Tonino Valeri, Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi, Tonino Valeri, & Renzo Genta, from a novel by Rolf Becker (as Ron Barker)

Lee Van Cleef once again showing he was no slouch in the acting department, in Tonino Valeri’s Western about the unlikely friendship between a hardened gunman and the local whipping boy of a town. What makes this character unique is that he’s played as the ruthless type who lets nothing stand in his way, but at the same time shows a sense of fatherly affection for the mistreated young man who’s forced to do sanitation work. This duality might prove the downfall of the gunman, but allows the audience to have genuine sympathy for the man, as he truly does show he’s not all bad. This go around showed Van Cleef had matured during his tenure in Italy, and was gaining experience, becoming adept with dialogue and character conveyance, instead of purely relying on his physical appearance and facial features, though he still uses them to great effect. This only made honorable mention due to a little bit of a gap within the storyline for the character.

(Author’s Note: I must admit I nearly got teary-eyed at the end, as I didn’t want to see Van Cleef’s character die.)

While these actors’ own voices weren’t heard on film and often times the lines they memorized differed from the original script (the context/syntax was the same, but said differently), their physical presence and on camera personalities helped the voice come across as theirs, not just something mechanical. Sometimes these performances were much better than the ones they gave in Hollywood, partly because the screenwriters gave them great material to work with, and the directors saw potential and talent that Hollywood either ignored or didn’t take full advantage of. Whatever the case, these actors were amazing and did excellent jobs overseas as well as in the States.

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google images and their respective owners

For more information:

IMDB/The Leopard

Wikipedia/The Leopard

IMDB/Once Upon A Time in the West

Wikipedia/Once Upon a Time in the West

IMDB/Hands Over the City

Wikipedia/Hands Over the City

IMDB/Salvatore Giuliano

Wikipedia/Salvatore Giuliano

IMDB/The Big Gundown

Wikipedia/The Big Gundown

IMDB/The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Wikipedia/The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

IMDB/Caliber 9

Wikipedia/Caliber 9

IMDB/The Boss

Wikipedia/The Boss

IMDB/Almost Human

Wikipedia/Almost Human

IMDB/Requiescant

Wikipedia/Requiescant

IMDB/Day of Anger

Wikipedia/Day of Anger

https://www.amazon.com/Once-Upon-Time-West-Blu-ray/dp/B072ZWHY7J/ref=tmm_blu_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

https://www.amazon.com/Hands-Over-City-Criterion-Collection/dp/B000H5U5KS/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1534346557&sr=1-1&keywords=hands+over+the+city+criterion&dpID=61vk24%252B5y9L&preST=_SY300_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

https://www.amazon.com/Salvatore-Giuliano-Criterion-Collection-Frank/dp/B00014K5ZU/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1534348526&sr=1-2&keywords=salvatore+giuliano&dpID=512iE0Qcv3L&preST=_SY300_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

https://www.amazon.com/Good-Ugly-Anniversary-Special-Blu-ray/dp/B0716XZB2B/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1534348596&sr=1-2&keywords=the+good+the+bad+and+the+ugly&refinements=p_n_format_browse-bin%3A2650305011&dpID=61DtWrCvz4L&preST=_SY300_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

For anyone with a Region Free Blu Ray Player or is in the Region B zone

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sulla-Masters-Cinema-Format-Blu-ray/dp/B00GWIITE8/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1534348739&sr=1-1&keywords=francesco+rosi+blu-ray

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Salvatore-Giuliano-Blu-ray-Frank-Wolff/dp/B00KHSM9OK/ref=sr_1_2?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1534348739&sr=1-2&keywords=francesco+rosi+blu-ray

(All other movies will be linked when I do more in-depth Western Wednesday write ups and other special likes)

 

Filed under: Film: Actor/Actress Spotlight, Film: Special Topics

Euripides & Sophocles Go to the West:

How Their Work Reflects Une Corde…Un Colt

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

by Tony Nash

(Warning: Mild spoilers are ahead, so readers may want to familiarize themselves with the basics of the material should they wish)

(Note: This piece goes a little intellectual in a comparison to Ancient Greek literature/plays. Some may find it a little deep, but it should still be enjoyable and fascinating to read)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

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Une Corde, un Colt…(aka Cimitero Senza Croci, The Rope and the Colt, Cemetery Without Crosses) (1968) *****

 Cast:

Michéle Mercier: Maria Caine (as Michele Mercier)

Robert Hossein: Manuel

Guido Lollobrigida: Thomas Caine (as Lee Burton)

Daniele Vargas: Will Rogers (as Daniel Vargas)

Serge Marquand: Larry Rogers

Pierre Hatet: Frank Rogers

Philippe Baronnet: Bud Rogers

Pierre Collet: Sheriff Ben

Michel Lemoine: Eli Caine

Anne-Marie Balin: Diana Rogers

Written by: Robert Hossein, Claude Desailly, & Dario Argento

Directed by: Robert Hossein

Synopsis: When her husband is forced into robbery, then murdered, by the land grabbing Rogers family, widow Maria Caine decides to take revenge on the thuggish father and sons. She seeks the help of her friend and ex-lover Manuel, a gunslinger whose trademark is a black glove on his gun hand. Initially intending to kidnap the Rogers daughter to humiliate the patriarch, things go badly when Maria’s brothers-in-law want in on the scheme.

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The Italian Western sometimes looked to the Bard William Shakespeare and Greek Tragedians like Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus for inspirations. Il Pistolero dell’Ave Maria (The Gunman of Ave Maria/Forgotten Pistolero) was based on Euripides play (with a hint of Aeschylus’s parody version) of Oresteia, Quella Sporca Storia nel West (The Dirtiest Story of the West/Johnny Hamlet) was based on Shakespeare’s classic Tragedy Hamlet, and Il Ritorno di Ringo (The Return of Ringo) was based on the Poet Homer’s The Odyssey. Homer’s original fable of Oresteia served as the starting point for Il Pistolero dell’Ave Maria. These are the primary examples as there’s a far too many to name list of other Italian Westerns took motifs and themes from these famous writers, but not the central story. Granted, not all Italian Westerns took their cues from The Bard or the Greeks, but the few that did stayed true to the context of the originators that gave the films a boost, and allowed characters to come off a bit more dimensioned than the standard.

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Now most people will likely wonder how Greek Tragedy could coincide with the Italian Western, and the answer’s not that complicated. The Greek Tragedy often dealt with characters trying to overcome the greatest of odds and right the wrongs of oppressors or fools, often times paying for these heroics with their own lives, or ruining the lives of those around them; sometimes both instances occur at once. In some stories, characters lose perspective and sometimes become worse than the people who hurt them. The Italian Westerns don’t exactly follow the patterns of the Greeks, but their stories often center on flawed, broken characters looking for revenge, sometimes personal, sometimes for money, and sometimes for something bigger than them that will better entire communities. The hero of the Greeks became the anti-hero of the Italians, individuals who were molded more after disillusioned war veterans, who through their experiences are teetering on losing their humanity, or have become just as cynical, if not more so, than the people they accuse as such. Greek heroes cared about the people and the community, while Italian anti-heroes cared only for themselves in what they viewed as a “dog-eat-dog” world where everyone betrays each other. A glimmer of hope that takes the anti-heroes back to the tradition of the Greeks is that they witness an injustice they just can’t ignore and watch happen, or they meet someone who reignites the fire of the humane they thought died. In the end, both forms come full circle.

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Probably one of the more significant films of the genre that was both overlooked for its beauty and for its use of Greek Tragedy was Robert Hossein’s Une Corde…Un Colt (Cimitero Senza Croci, The Rope and the Colt, Cemetery Without Crosses). Hossein’s film seems to steer primarily toward the work of Sophocles and Euripides, primarily in the case of the characters Maria Caine and Manuel.

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Maria Caine easily harkens back to Sophocles’ Antigone, Euripides’ Medea, and to a lesser extent, Electra. In terms of Antigone, Maria isn’t going to let patriarch Will Rogers of the Rogers clan get away with ruining her husband’s life and reputation, then forcing him into becoming a thief who, in an unusual case of irony in the genre, ends up robbing the Rogers themselves. She knows the Rogers family was the cause of her husband’s demise but the Sheriff of the town is a coward who won’t do a thing, so she must take action herself. She defies social expectations of womanly behavior and hires a professional gunfighter to help in not only avenging her husband, but to put a humiliating dent in the power and prestige of the Rogers, who rule the community with an iron fist. In terms of Medea, it looks as if at times Maria is losing sight of her goal, and is becoming just as tyrannical and ruthless as the Rogers family. She certainly doesn’t go down the grimly dark rabbit hole like Medea, but audiences can’t help but wonder if she’s been hurt too much, or is looking to hurt others too much.

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Her aim isn’t to kill anyone, as Medea does, but outside elements even she couldn’t predict change all of that. Maria also doesn’t lose her mind like Medea does, though it could be argued a little piece of her has died in the process, replaced by something cold and calculating. In terms of Electra, Maria is shown as someone pushed to the brink, a woman harassed and abused to the point she couldn’t take it anymore. Her actions aren’t necessarily the right ones, but both the audience and even some of the other characters can’t really blame her for what she did. It’s only when her greedy brothers-in-law start making trouble that her downfall really ensues. When some more information is revealed about her toward the end, the audience can’t help but think she’ll be tried fairly in the next world. Maria Caine certainly leans more toward Antigone than towards Medea and Electra, but only because she doesn’t go to a point in the story to where she’ll be damned to torment when her time comes. All she ever wanted was justice for her husband and for the town to dethrone the Rogers who had become the Old West equivalent of despots. Like any good Greek Tragedy, outside forces brought about her misfortune and demise, but the audience can sympathize with her still because she never truly veered from her course.

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Manuel is a little harder to pinpoint, mostly because his character traits and personality don’t fully reflect any known character of the Tragedies. He’s certainly not Oedipus, because there’s no forbidden romance or curse to destroy him, though his being a gunfighter with a dark and shady past certainly bears resemblance to it. He’s not Creon either, because he hasn’t declared himself above anyone, nor is he pompous and arrogant. In a way he’s a combination of Sophocles’ Haemon and Tiresias and Euripides’ Jason. Initially in the film, Manuel tries to dissuade Maria from taking revenge on the Rogers clan for he knows only misery can result from it. He even mentions going away together and start all over. When he realizes she can’t be talked out of it, he attempts to formulate a plan that hopefully won’t lead to needless violence and death. As the film progresses, the audience sees what Manuel is willing to look away from in order to help Maria, which shows his callousness. He also shows great compassion which offers a nice juxtaposition and conflict, as he feels uncertain of what he’s doing.

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In the end, when he finally regains his senses, all hope is lost, and he has nothing more to lose. There is a little bit of Oedipus at play as the finale draws near, as the audience sees Manuel is willing to pay the price in order to restore his personal sense of worth, as it seems unlikely his honor can be repaired. When all is said and done, Manuel is a flawed, but unique character that offers nearly all the facets of human behavior, emotion, and character. He is ruthless and gentle, sympathetic and cruel, intelligent and irrational. He’s in constant conflict with himself because he knows the difference between justice and revenge, but the love and affection he had for Maria and her husband make it hard for him not to become involved. When things start to turn ugly, he tries every way to protect Maria, but other forces have different plans. In the end, like any hero, he faces destiny head on, even though it may cost him his life.

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Now all of this certainly isn’t to say that this is what Hossein had in mind when he wrote the script and made the film, but it does offer a unique interpretation of the material. All of this could simply be what some viewers (including this author), and some keen studiers of the Greek Tragedies might see when taking a closer look, but it’s also hard to deny that elements of those classic plays are seen in the film. The majority of the characters could very much be seen in the plays, as the stories are timeless and can work in any era, as they relate, much like Shakespeare, to every subsequent generation who looks at them. The script/story and idea are completely Hossein and his writing partner Claude Desailly’s own creation, with no initial leanings toward any source material. Hossein certainly had Tragedy in mind, but whether he truly intended for it to be a nod to the Greeks or Shakespeare is open to interpretation as films can have many meanings, besides what the screenwriters and director initially aspire them to be. This all open-ended of course, with no real concrete substantiation, but it’s certainly interesting to think about and explore.

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images (including DVDTalk.com, BluRay.com, and Mondo-Esoterica.com)

(For those who found this a little intellectual and deep, I apologize if it’s not the usual flair you enjoy. I repeat I don’t claim this to have been Hossein’s intention when he made the film, though I admit there were similarities to Greek Tragedy I couldn’t ignore were there when I first saw the film. This was all a fun exercise in seeing if a parallel could be drawn and I believe I did well with it. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea or taste, but I’m sure a lot of you out there will find/have found something enjoyable with it.)

(I highly recommend the Arrow Video Blu Ray release as well. Sporting a fine transfer and crisp Italian soundtrack with translated English subtitles, it’s an experience viewers won’t forget. It’s Region A & B so either the US or UK release will play fine on any player)

https://www.amazon.com/Cemetery-Without-Crosses-Special-Blu-ray/dp/B00VMFS28E/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1533751950&sr=8-11&keywords=arrow+video+western

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cemetery-Without-Crosses-Format-Blu-ray/dp/B00VKRUKYS/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1533752070&sr=8-7&keywords=arrow+video+westerns

(For anyone interested in exploring Euripides and Sophocles, you can Google information on them. If you’d like to check out their plays, here’s some links)

https://www.amazon.com/Sophocles-Complete-Plays-Signet-Classics/dp/0451531531/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1533752585&sr=1-3&keywords=complete+plays+of+sophocles&dpID=51HXVZQAi2L&preST=_SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch

https://www.amazon.com/Dramas-Euripides-Complete-Surviving-Forgotten/dp/1605063398/ref=sr_1_11?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1533752634&sr=1-11&keywords=complete+plays+of+Euripides

(There are also several volume series of Euripides’ work for anyone not interested in all the plays)

 

 

 

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics